» Media ¦ What You Can Get Away With

"You might already know that these are books. But what you might not know is that the words inside them are made up by people."

“You might already know that these are books. But what you might not know is that the words inside them are made up by people.”

The Pitch: There’s been a lot of complaint that TV mainstream doesn’t have much, if any, programming about books (rather than just being based on them). This show aims to change that by finding Britain’s Next Top Writer in a primetime show. Having made one giant leap of originality by doing a show about books in primetime, the rest of the show will be a complete ripoff of other talent formats. Thus, one round will feature wannabe writers reading a small sample of their work to celebrity writer judges, who’ll be sitting in the chairs from The Voice that have been badly modified to look ‘writerly’. Writers will be expected to jump across genre, style and form at a moment’s notice. (An amateur playwright protesting they know nothing about novel structure being berated by an angry Salman Rushdie will become a YouTube favourite) The life of a writer will be presented as effortless luxury, casually dispensing bon mots at cocktail parties between dashing out a newspaper column and being showered in money by benevolent publisher.

The climax will come in a live final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff where a book-wielding audience of thousands will watch as the four finalist writers discover that the hours they’ve spent sweating over their work, carrying out every edit and demeaning video diary task ordered by the producers, was utterly wasted as the executives have discovered no one really likes reading books, so they’ll be engaging in It’s A Knockout style contests with a vaguely books-that-have-become-well-known-movies theme. The winner will discover that there book was already published for free as a sample on Amazon that morning and they’ve made £2.35 from the millions of downloads.

Initially planned judges/mentors by the producers: JK Rowling, that one who wrote that thing that we were all reading last year in Tuscany, what was it, look, just get me JK Rowling. What do you mean, she doesn’t want to do it?
Actual judges: A generally confused looking Salman Rushdie, three other authors who could be made to look vaguely presentable on camera and are happy to appear on The One Show and regional radio programmes on an almost daily basis to plug this.
Likelihood of actually boosting book sales across the nation: Low

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"I have a very particular set of dietary requirements."

“I have a very particular set of dietary requirements.”

The Pitch: Following a freak accident on a previous mission, inexplicably Irish-accented CIA agent Brendan McPuncherson must now eat a raw egg, crushed in his own hands, every thirty minutes or he will die a slow and agonising death. Now he’s back on the job (and carrying a large amount of eggs in his car) when he discovers some disturbing news. The chief terrorist he thought he killed in his egg-related mission is still alive, and is now planning to kill every chicken in North America in an attempt to gain a twisted revenge on McPuncherson. High-speed chases over cobbled streets, cardboard tray tampering, the world’s highest stakes egg and spoon race, Liam Neeson eating a quite incredible number of eggs and the catchphrase ‘No! Duck eggs don’t work!’ feature in this high-albumen thriller.

Likelihood of this movie actually happening if the Liam Neeson Punching People genre continues: Higher than you’d hope
Likelihood of endless sequels with minor twists and increased punching: Depressingly high
Likelihood of Fox News headlining a discussion ‘Are Our Chickens Safe?': Pleasingly high

(Based on an original Twitter conversation with Justin McKeating, who writes much better stories than me)

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After it flared up into media prominence over the last week, the Telegraph today eagerly covered the news that the Green Party won’t be including Citizens Income as a policy in their General Election manifesto.

However, there seems to be a problem with that news: it’s not true. Reading an account from a Green Party member, it seems that the party’s conference has insisted that the policy is included in the manifesto, and the Telegraph’s report is merely extrapolating wildly from some comments by Caroline Lucas. The member’s account suggests that she has opposed the inclusion of it in the manifesto, but even with that news, the Telegraph appears to be stretching her words. It reports that she said:

“The citizens’ income is not going to be in the 2015 general election manifesto as something to be introduced on May 8th. It is a longer term aspiration; we are still working on it,”

The key point they’re not factoring into their story is ‘as something to be introduced on May 8th’, instead focusing on the first part of the sentence. Let’s be honest, I don’t think even the most hardened support of a basic income scheme thinks it could be introduced quickly, and it helps to show the ignorance of reporters who believe that is the case.

However, I think this comes back to the point I made a couple of weeks ago about how journalists don’t understand how policy making within parties actually works. As someone with experience of seeing similar things in the Lib Dems, it’s almost pleasant to see another party being similarly misunderstood. Journalists like to believe that all political parties are run from the top down, not the bottom up, and of course ‘senior party figures’ are always happy to encourage this impression. So, when Caroline Lucas says something (and it’s misheard) it’s easy for them to leap to ‘the party has changed its policy!’ rather than ‘hmm, better check that for accuracy.’

It does make me think about the Iron Law of Oligarchy – the idea that all political organisations will progress from democracy to oligarchy over time – and whether the media have a role in encouraging and fostering that process. Could one even argue that social pressures and the expectation that an organisation will be run from the top are as much a pressure making it happen as the role of bureaucracy concentrating power in the organisation? Something else to add to the list of things I need to think about and write about some more…

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Mr_Benn_Gladiator_book_coverThe Trailer: Voiceover man begins with ‘some heroes wear many costumes’. The whole trailer is shot through heavy filters, mostly dark and grey just to ensure everyone is clear that this is a Serious Film taking the source material Seriously. As it’s a trailer, we see all the best bits of the film mashed together through hyper-kinetic editing, complete with out of context quotes scattered over them.

We see Mr Benn (Benedict Cumberbatch) in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, hear the Shopkeeper (Jim Broadbent) give a garbled explanation of how this is a role handed down from generation to generation to protect history and fantasy. There’d be flash cuts of fighting as a knight and as gladiator, doing complicated things as a spaceman and casting magic as a wizard, all shot in glorious Grimdark-Serious-O-Vision.

‘Protecting them from who?’ he asks, and the trailer shows the designated Bad Guy (Matt Smith), possibly interspersed with occasional shots of the Official Love Interest (Sienna Miller), cropping up in various times and places. Then the trailer slows to show us the Big Dramatic Scene.

Mr Benn, in a cowboy outfit celebrating something, when a bloodstained fez rolls across the screen and lands against his feet. He picks it up, looks out and sees the Bad Guy wearing a suit and bowler hat.

“You wore a costume and stepped into my world. Didn’t you realise that I could wear one and step into yours too?”

Another blizzard of disconnected images then the screen goes black. Voiceover Guy: ‘This summer, choose your outfit carefully.’ Graphics tell us MR BENN: THE MOVIE is Coming Soon.

Likelihood of director and writer claiming that this was always the intended vision for the character: High
Likelihood of anyone who’s seen the TV series keeping a straight face while watching it: Low
Likelihood of straight-to-streaming sequels with a tiny budget and none of the original cast: High

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madeuthinkThe Pitch: This Black Mirror episode is told through the story of four friends, all of them eager modern types who are regular users of social media, obviously. One of them discovers a mysterious and anonymous account that is sending messages to celebrities, revealing supposed secrets and telling them to ‘repent for their sins’. Surprise turns to shock when it’s revealed that the secrets are all true and celebrities all over the world start confessing their secrets. Soon, more and more of these accounts appear, all revealing deeply held, personal and private things that no one but the accused could have known about. Suddenly, it’s not just celebrities being accused but politicians and business leaders as more accounts spring up, each using the same format and all talking about sin. Finally, the accounts turn to the rest of the population, and everyone finds their sins exposed for the whole world. Before long, it’s realised that the Second Coming has occurred, and God has returned to judge everyone through the internet.

The final shot is a room deep within a CIA facility, as a man smiles to himself while typing code into a computer. We see it running the accounts and then a flash of code reveals it to be the Global Online Database.

The Cast:
John (Friend capable of delivering infodumps as dialogue): Ben Whishaw
Alice (Friend good at showing other people what she’s found online): Faye Marsay
Tamara (Friend good at asking questions that move the plot along): Jenna Coleman
Brian (Friend who’s American, to help us sell it there): Aaron Paul
Newsreader: Krishnan Guru-Murthy
Newsreader who didn’t want to appear, but don’t tell Krishnan that he wasn’t our first choice: Jon Snow
Scarily intense fire and brimstone priest interviewed on TV: Donald Sumpter
Very liberal priest who becomes more fundamentalist with each TV appearance: Russell Tovey
Ambiguously smiling CIA person: Rob Lowe

Likelihood of dominating Twitter trending topics while on: Very high
Likelihood of people finding the ending a shocking twist, not a dodgy cop out: Worryingly high
Likelihood of someone implying you’re thick and didn’t understand the subtlety because you didn’t like it: Very high

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(The first, and possibly last, of a series of pitches for films that don’t exist)

From an early draft, which ended with a musical number.

From an early draft, which ended with a musical number.

The Pitch: The country’s in the middle of an election campaign, and the Prime Minister discovers that his advisers have got it badly wrong. Despite his refusal to participate, broadcasters are still going to go ahead with a leaders’ debate and he’ll be represented merely by an empty chair if he’s not there. Realising he needs to be there, he now has just 90 minutes to get across a gridlocked London, but can’t use any governmental resources. His quest takes him on a bizarre journey across the capital, discovering new truths about himself and his country. Can he avoid the empty chair, and if he gets there, what will we he say?

The Cast:
Prime Minister: David Tennant
Aide who’s a bit sleazy and doesn’t have much to do in the second half of the film: Matthew Horne
Aide who’s very idealistic and about to quit until she sees the human side of her boss: Romola Garai
Adviser played by someone who we clearly only had on set for a few days because he had better things to do: Steve Coogan
Supposedly edgy street kid who never swears or does anything that dangerous: Some poor sod fresh from the Brit School who’ll look back on this as the highlight of their career
Leader of the Opposition: Christopher Eccleston
Leaders of other ill-defined parties: David Mitchell, Olivia Colman
PM’s party enemy who’s somehow hoping to benefit from all this: Rupert Penry-Jones
Antique expert (archive footage): Arthur Negus
Debate moderator: Keeley Hawes
Overly stressed producer: Pip Torrens
Those annoying cameos you expect in any British movie: Danny Dyer, Meera Syal, at least one member of Girls Aloud, Roger Moore, Ken Livingstone, Anne Widdicombe, Jeremy Paxman’s beard
Pointless cameos just to make sure the fanboys watch it: Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy
Not returning our calls, no matter how desperate we got: Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi

Likelihood of good reviews: Low
Likelihood of anyone abroad understanding 10% of what’s going on: Very low
Likelihood of appearing continually on ITV2 from now until the end of time: High

maninthehighcastleLooking back over my previous posts, I see I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of The Man In The High Castle for over four years. It was first announced as being adapted by Ridley Scott for the BBC in 2010, but after disappearing into the netherworld of development hell, it was then announced as an Amazon series last year, and the first episode of it has now appeared as part of their latest pilot season.

The big question, then, is was it worth the wait? On the evidence of this pilot episode, yes it was, and also worth the (hopefully shorter) wait for it to return as a full series. His involvement may not be quite so hands on this time, but Ridley Scott has shown yet again how to adapt a Philip K Dick novel. Just as Blade Runner used the characters and themes of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? but was prepared to deviate from the plot, so does The Man In The High Castle. There’s an understanding that a book and a TV series tell stories differently, especially one that’s being told through the multiple levels of Dick’s imagination. In short, I would definitely recommend watching it, whether you’ve read the book or not. Spoilers for the book and the adaptation follow, so read on at your own peril.

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